Excerpts from The Quest of the Sparrows
He knew he was dying.
Through his failing vision, he saw the trophies he’d been so proud of, adorning the walls of his room. Now, in his last moments, he felt their worthlessness. The desire he had long suppressed of becoming an artist, a painter, confronted him.
Long ago, the plight of his struggling artist friends and the complete insecurity of his future had made him lose his nerve. He fled the art scene and took up a comfortable desk job.
But the ghost of the artist never left him in peace, despite his affluence. It held him responsible for its murder. How would life have turned out if he had remained steadfast to his first love?
‘Better! Would have absolved my existence. Changed me into a greater human being. All my life’s work amounts to nothing!’
Tears of regret spilled from his eyes.
From the bed, he saw the sparrow he fed everyday land on the windowsill. Ironically, the sparrow never worried about tomorrow, but lived every day joyously. Unlike him; he had spent all his life securing his tomorrows. Now, all of a sudden, there was no tomorrow.
‘If I get another chance …’ he murmured, before he died with the wish on his lips.
1 A Method behind the Madness
Beep … beep … beep … beep. … The oscilloscope sent out its tired signals, the waves losing their highs as they ran out of energy.
Had she been conscious, she would have brought her hands to her ears and screamed; the shrill tone would have driven her crazy. But she was beyond caring, edging past the twilight zone between darkness and light. She had suffered enough. For her sake, he wanted her to cross the thin line between life and death.
The sound died. The wave flattened into a straight line. With it, the three-month-old battle ended. She became another statistical figure, another coma victim.
It was drizzling when the ambulance arrived and the ward boys heaved the body into the back with a practised ease that was almost obscene. Their indifference stripped death of its dignity and reduced it to a routine, mechanical procedure. As he tried to climb into the ambulance, he felt a hand on his left shoulder.
He turned and his mouth went dry.
Three men had him cornered. Their plastic hats and raincoats looked ominous. The hand dug deeper into the flesh of his shoulder and he cried out in pain.
‘Where’s the money?’
‘I couldn’t get it today. …’ His face went pale.
Am I bleeding?
‘You didn’t learn any new sentences in the weeks we gave you.’
‘I … I will pay. Promise.’
‘The same bullshit. Let me put your vocabulary on the fast track. Hold him, you two, or are you just going to keep standing?’ he shouted at the other two menacing figures. They sprang into action. One of them held him from the back and the other grabbed his left arm.
‘Stretch his forefinger. …’
‘What are you doing?’ His eyes dilated in fear.
‘Taking a small part of you. In my experience, the slow learners get into the act quickly if we take a tiny bit of them.’
‘No!’ His body stiffened when he saw the gleam of the knife as it reflected the lighting.
‘Won’t hurt as much as you imagine. Just enough to ensure you remember our next meeting. Trust me,’ he laughed mockingly.
The man struck the knife at the root of the finger.
He screamed, but his scream stuck in his throat as the man grabbed him by his hair.
‘Don’t search for this finger.’ The man dangled it in front of his face. ‘We will feed it to a dog. Get some first-aid; we don’t want you to die of sepsis.’
He moaned in agony, trying to control his pain, knowing shouting would invite more wrath.
‘Cremate your mother. But remember, we will be back in ten days. If you don’t pay, we will take two of your fingers next time. Understand?’He nodded between his moans. The man shoved him as he walked away. He hit the door of the ambulance and fell on the ground with a thud.
Through his hazy vision, he saw them returning to their car as their shoes squished over the water-clogged road.
He saw his blood mix with the rainwater swirling around him before he lost consciousness.